Friday, 8 June 2018

Artist Couples Exhibition comes to Bristol!

© 1961 estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett. Photo credit: RWA (Royal West of England Academy)

For the past three years I've been working with director Alison Bevan and the curatorial staff at the Royal West of England Academy, putting together an unusual kind of exhibition. There's a clue in the title - In Relation: Nine Couples who Transformed Modern British Art

The exhibition brings together some of the most significant artists and designers who worked in C20 Britain, but what really matters here is that we're looking at the subject in a new way. We know that artists are influenced by their illustrious predecessors and by new ideas, but what happens when two artists share their everyday life together? How is the work and career of each one affected by the other?

Because these relationships are often undocumented - you don't write letters to someone you live with - it's easy to overlook them, yet it is clear that in some cases the course of British art in the 20th century was significantly influenced by the romantic entanglements of these artists. This exhibition gives people a chance to look at pictures by, say, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and think about the similarities and differences.

Fans of Eric Ravilious will enjoy 'Painted Dresser', a watercolour that has never been shown publicly before, and there's also an opportunity to view rarely seen work by his wife Tirzah Garwood. There are some cracking loans from Tate and the National Portrait Gallery, including a lovely portrait of Vanessa Bell by Duncan Grant and the gorgeous double portrait '1933 St Remy' by Ben Nicholson. Two beautiful Barbara Hepworth sculptures, rare early works by Mary Fedden and even a woman's wedding suit made from block-printed fabric by celebrated 1930s designers Barron and Larcher.

The full list of artists is as follows:

Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth; Laura and Harold Knight; Dod and Ernest Procter; Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood; Robert MacBryde and Robert Colquhoun; Rose and Roger Hilton; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Mary Fedden and Julian Trevelyan; Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher.

We're hanging next week and the exhibition opens on June 16. If you can't make it or you'd like a souvenier, there's a concise but beautifully produced catalogue. So why not come to Bristol and enjoy a day out in our wonderful city...

A Walk Through Bawden's World

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Edward Bawden at the All Saints Arts Festival

Edward Bawden, The Showboat at Baghdad, 1944
Quick diary date... on 25 May I'm giving my lecture 'Edward Bawden: Artist & Adventurer' at the inaugural All Saints Festival in Maldon, Essex. Is that where the sea salt comes from? I expect I'll find out. Anyway, if you're in the area and want to come along you will just have time to whizz to Dulwich Picture Gallery and see the Bawden exhibition (opens 23 May) beforehand. Or you could go along in a more leisurely manner afterwards...

Other Bawden-related events in the Upcoming Lectures over here >>>>

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A bug's life... photo by Tim Mainstone

Out very soon from the Mainstone Press, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' will take armchair travellers on an extraordinary journey. Edward Bawden grew up wanting to illustrate books, and for sixty years or more he did just that, not only creating designs for dozens of book jackets but also providing sets of illustrations for a remarkable array of titles. Writing the captions for this encyclopaedic volume has been a fascinating (if occasionally Herculean) task. Bawden illustrated literary classics, family favourites and a host of books that I'd never heard of before.

Being Bawden, he treated every job - whether for a railway company or a major international publisher - with the same care and consideration. He spent far too long on his designs for them to be commercially lucrative, but then he was only partly motivated by financial necessity. Chiefly he did this work because he loved it. He was a problem solver and an inventor, and he approached each project with relish. His research was always impeccable, and his designs both novel and apt.

One or two of the books are back in print these days. Some are easily bought. A few of the rarer titles will be on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery next month. In the meantime, 'Are You Sitting Comfortably? The Book Jackets of Edward Bawden' will be available within a matter of days...


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ravilious & Bawden in the Snow

Eric Ravilious, Halstead Road in Snow, 1935, private collection
So far I've resisted posting photos of the current Snowmageddon anywhere, mostly because I live in Bristol and we have about a teacupful. Instead, here are two rather different visions of snowfall. In each case we can see the artist using watercolour in a slightly unusual way.

Writing about 'Halstead Road in Snow' to Helen Binyon, Ravilious noted, 'Scratching the spots all over the drawing was a change, and I enjoyed it.' He managed to do this in such a way that the flakes of falling snow form a rough pattern, as if a diaphanous veil had been held up in front of the scene, yet there is no point at which the pattern becomes too neat. In fact there's a sense of jostling motion, enhanced by the movement suggested by the cycle tracks pulling the viewer's eye into the scene and around the corner.

Edward Bawden, February: 2pm, 1936, private collection
In startling contrast to this gentle scene of lightly falling flakes, Edward Bawden presents a howling blizzard. To appreciate 'February: 2pm' you really have to see it in person, and happily you will be able to do just that at Dulwich Picture Gallery this summer. When I took the dog to the park just now the snow was flying in our faces, battering painfully at exposed skin, and this is the kind of experience one senses Bawden trying to communicate. Across a wintry view of the garden at Brick House he has scrawled violently with crayon and pencil, and scratched with a blade - a good thing he used heavy lettering paper as anything more delicate would surely have been torn.

These differing impressions of winter weather give a good insight in these closely linked but very different artists. Where Ravilious tended towards coolness and control, Bawden was passionate and direct, and while the former often completed his watercolours in a studio, the latter insisted on working on site, returning each day until the picture was finished. Each used colour in a distinctive way, delicate in Eric's case, bold and surprising in Edward's. Each was in awe of the other.

'Edward Bawden' opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery in May. #Bawden2018
'Eric Ravilious: The Complete Watercolours' will be published next year by The Hedingham Press.